REPORT ON COUNCIL
March 15 and 16, 2004
Special Committee of the Whole: 9:05 a.m. 2:57 p.m. and 9:10 a.m. 2:57 p.m.
All Members of Council present.
At the outset, Council learned that the Township share of the Municipal levy (a little more than a third of the total -- the balance is for County and for Education) would go up by 19.53% if the operating and capital budgets projected by the various township departments for this year were accepted. The projected increase in expenditures was $1.8 million.
The numbers are actually not as much higher than last years as this would imply, but last year, Council had a $590,000 surplus from 2002-2003 to apply to the operating budget. This year there is no surplus to draw on, and indeed there appears to have been overspending by the last Council in quite a few categories.
No one was happy with the prospect of a 19.53% increase. Worse, the new Councillors were initially under the impression that they were looking at an increase of roughly 20% for the County and the Education components as well, not realizing that the Treasurer, lacking hard figures, had inserted a mythical figure of roughly 20% as the anticipated increase for each of them. Questions by Councillor Panasiuk revealed that the increase for the County component is 2 or 3% (Countys budget has been passed but the Treasurer does not have the figures in hand as yet) and the likelihood is that Education will be in the same range. More questions revealed that the budget Council had been given was put together last November, so many estimated figures should have been replaced with actual numbers. Also not included were projected figures for the GST rebate, the cost of a severance package for the CAO and for hiring a new CAO, and an increase in legal fee rates.
Assuming figures of 2 or 3%, each for the County and Education components, the impact of a 19.53% increase for the Township portion of the tax bill would be an overall increase of between 8 and 9%.
Councillor Breckenridge said that such an increase for the Townships share of municipal taxes was impossible for the taxpayers: cuts must be made: and those most capable of seeing where savings could be achieved with the least damage were the heads of departments. The department heads also knew which services were mandatory and which optional. She said that it would take far too long for Council to go through the complex budget line by line. Councillor Panasiuk observed that decisions about which services to provide and which to reduce were political decisions, ones that rested properly with Council. Councillor Ray Millar said that statistics were needed so that Council would have a better grasp on outcomes for a particular investment of tax dollars. After some discussion, Council decided to ask the heads of departments for suggestions of what to cut and, as they spoke with each one, they asked for background information on many items.
And so the members of Council asked questions about every aspect of the operating budget, their own salaries and benefits included questions that helped familiarize the new members in particular with the actual work of each part of the Township operation questions about the value of particular services, the efficiency with which they are delivered.
Along the way, some interesting ideas surfaced. In the course of the discussion about the $25,000 budgeted for public education (the sum the last Council used for advertisements in the Free Press about Councils activities, and for preparing and sending the Tiny Dispatch to every taxpayer) Ray Millar suggested that the money might be better spent on web casting Council meetings.
Next Budget Discussions March 30.